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Does India need only 50,000 engineers per year?
February 17, 2004
In the ruckus over Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi's order to the IIMs to slash fees, another news has been missed out: the U R Rao Committee has recommended the slashing of engineering seats from the current 350,000 to 50,000.
That's right: slashed by 300,000, almost 90 per cent!
Reason: there is 20 percent unemployment and more underemployment among engineers.
To remove 20 percent unemployment 90 percent of seats must be cut? It boggles the mind and gives the suggestion a sinister feel.
Is it to churn out so few engineers that they can command exotic salaries and never be unemployed, a status only enjoyed by IIT graduates today?
Read The U R Rao Interview!
This must be the most retrogressive, even anti-national, suggestion ever made. It is shocking that it should come from such a distinguished body.
For the nation to prosper, the Rao Committee seems to have forgotten that supply must exceed demand, never the other way round.
The Rao Committee claims its suggestion is to prevent the increasing numbers of 'educated unemployed.' Let us take this further: there are also hundreds of thousands of unemployed graduates in the fields of arts, commerce, law, science, and even medicine. Will the next step to cut down the number of seats in all such fields so that we have fewer unemployed accountants, lawyers, wanna-be executives and administrators, scientists, etc, etc?
Road to a superpower: Education for all
And what about the millions who have school-level education and fail to find decent employment? Should we stop them from studying for fear that they might never get employment commensurate with their education level?
What the Rao Committee is suggesting is India is better off with the uneducated unemployed rather than the educated unemployed, a suggestion that smacks of class prejudice. According to news reports, the report had said, 'creating more educated unemployed is unsafe.'
Any sane person would have thought that creating uneducated unemployed is much more unsafe? If only for the simplest reason, an educated person can be trained for any number of tasks and his mind and abilities fruitfully employed elsewhere. But what do can one train an uneducated person for besides some unskilled labour or begging?
The report also begs a question: In a growing economy like India, why should an educated person, especially in the field of technology, be unemployed? One reason could be that those claiming unemployment are people listed on the government employment exchanges. Such people invariably want government jobs, nothing less, even if they hold jobs elsewhere. The second reason is that some people are just unwilling to try something different, for economic or social status reasons.
Job creation depends on demand and supply. There will always be some mismatch in the numbers and one has to be flexible in seeking careers.
But any person with a technical qualification is first and foremost an educated person, with the ability to think and to apply his mind to different tasks. It is often the better students who become engineers and who should therefore have less difficulty earning a living employed in a different profession.
Let us not create a neo-caste system by saying that engineers have to become engineers. There are many engineers who are thriving in non-engineering professions; in fact some of India's best managers selling soaps boast engineering degrees. Their engineering degree did not stop them from a career in sales; in fact, it made them betters sales managers, making the competitive and innovative to meet the market requirements.
An education is never wasted if the person so desires.
India does have a huge unemployment problem and which has to be addressed seriously, but the solution does not lie in reducing educational seats but in increasing employment opportunities. The Rao committee's remedy is a cure worse than the disease!
Also, why should the number of seats available be decided by a government-appointed panel? Should that not be an outcome of the market's demand and supply? If, as the Rao Committee fears, there are too many unemployed technologists, the coming years will see a decrease in the number of students opting to study technology. Students, and their parents, are not fools to spend precious years and money studying for professions without job prospects. When the number of doctors saturated, fewer students took up medicine; the same will happen to technical education.
The Rao Commitee report also mentions that there are not enough engineers with higher qualifications to teach in the technical institutes. It is a piquant situation where there are too many technically qualified persons but too few professors in the same profession. Obviously qualified students are unable to gain further qualifications to become professors. This does not mean less technical seats but an adjustment between basic and higher technical qualifications.
It is strange the Rao Committee's suggestion to chop the number of technical education seats should come at a time when India is making awesome strides in technology and science -- be it IT, auto components, healthcare, pharmaceuticals -- areas India plans to become a global leader in a decade or two.
To suggest that only 50,000 students per year from our engineering institutes will meet these awesome future requirements is ridiculous. Fewer engineers have never made a country greater.
Where the Rao Committee is correct is in stating that too many technical institutes lack equipment and facilities to train our students properly. This dictum about the poor quality of education can be applied to other professional and general courses as well. It is a grave problem with India's education system and needs urgent rectification.
Our education institutions, bar some exceptions, have to equip the students of today for the challenges of tomorrow, something they are not doing too well at present.